Melatonin Supplements: What Are the Risks, Benefits, & Side Effects?
7 minute read
Melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally produces to regulate your sleep cycle. It also can be found in supplemental form for those who have trouble sleeping.
Melatonin is preferred over sleeping pills and medications because it is natural. However, there are things you should know about taking melatonin supplements, including what risks are involved.
The Natural Sleep Aid
Your pineal glands produce the hormone melatonin at night to help you sleep. The supplements are therefore used to induce sleep and increase sleep duration, as sleep is linked to your health.
The release of melatonin is controlled by the presence of light, so it typically rises at night and falls during the day. Disruptions to a typical daily pattern, such as working night shifts, jet lag, or insomnia, contribute to abnormal production of melatonin.
Melatonin also plays additional roles in your body that many people do not realize. The hormone helps function or is involved in actions throughout your body.
♦ Regulation of blood pressure
♦ Control of cortisol (stress hormone) level
♦ Regulation of body temperature
♦ Impacts on immune system function and antioxidant defenses
♦ Impacts sexual function
Not all supplements are the same, so you need to check the labels before use. Many people even find that melatonin is not as effective as sleeping medications, but the fact that it is a more natural option makes it popular.
You can get the supplement through prescriptions or over the counter, but the ones that do not come from your doctor may be of lower quality.
The United States is the only place that offers melatonin over-the-counter as other countries limit it to prescription use only. Approvals are only given for older adults that have diagnosed sleeping disorders, so it is not as freely available.
The availability of melatonin supplements has triggered cause for concern, as there appear to be potential side effects that are not serious but may cause you problems.
The Trouble With Melatonin
Since the development of melatonin supplements, there has been research into its effectiveness as well as safety. No studies have yet to reveal any serious side effects, and there are no cases of any dependence or withdrawal symptoms.
The concern comes from the supplement causing a reduction to your natural production of the hormone. Despite physicians having this concern, no studies have yet to confirm this.
For the most part, it seems that melatonin supplements are safe when taken short-term, but more long-term studies are needed to determine the effects over extended periods of time. Research has revealed that some people experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, and agitation as side effects to melatonin supplements, but nothing life-threatening.
Other concerns that physicians have involved the potential interaction between melatonin supplements and sleeping pills. Some studies have found that specific combinations can result in negative effects on memory as well as muscle performance. It also causes a drop in your body temperature.
This may not seem like an adverse effect, but for those who have trouble keeping warm, this can be a big problem.
Melatonin supplements have also been linked to blood-thinning because the hormone has the ability to reduce coagulation. If you are already using blood-thinning medications, you should consult your doctor before using melatonin.
Blood-thinning can be advantageous to heart health, in terms of preventing a heart attack or stroke, but it can be dangerous if you sustain an injury, as you are at risk for heavy bleeding.
Melatonin and Children
The use of melatonin in children is not recommended, but with it being available over-the-counter, there are parents that use sleep aid to help their kids. Children can suffer from insomnia and sleep disorders too, but you should always speak with their pediatrician before administering melatonin supplements.
At this time the FDA hasn’t approved or fully evaluated the safety of the supplement for children, and more long-term research is needed. There is no scientific reason other than prudent caution to give melatonin to kids, but they are considered to be a sensitive group that is still developing, and any disruption to the natural process may have unintended consequences.
Melatonin is not meant to be used for kids or even adolescents, but it has proven useful in children with ADHD and autism. The medications prescribed for these two conditions often cause difficulty sleeping. A lack of sleep can exacerbate the symptoms of the conditions.
Melatonin supplements help these children get a restful night's sleep, which keeps children more relaxed and calm during the following day.
Getting Too Sleepy
Melatonin is designed to be administered in the evening, so as to help you fall asleep. When taken at night, it compliments your body’s natural production of the hormone. If the supplement is taken at different times of the day, you may end up feeling sleepy when you need to be awake.
| Related: 9 Sleeping Positions for Better Health |
This is not necessarily a problem for healthy adults, but it can be for those with reduced melatonin clearance rates.
The clearance rate for a substance is the amount of time it takes the substance or compound to leave the body. Reduced clearance rates mean that melatonin stays in the body for longer periods of time, which will cause unexpected sleepiness.
Both children and the elderly have reduced clearance rates, so care needs to be taken if supplying these individuals with melatonin supplements.
Boost Your Melatonin Naturally
Even though the side effects are not serious, they can be a problem for the health of certain individuals. Thankfully, there are ways to boost your body’s production of melatonin naturally.
At least an hour before you go to sleep each night, you should turn off electronic devices and dim the lights in your home. Artificial light interferes with melatonin production, which will make it harder for you to fall asleep.
By spending time outdoors in natural light during the day, you can also reinforce your sleep-wake cycle (also called a 24-hour clock or Circadian Rhythm). This is especially effective when done in the morning.
It strengthens the brain’s connection to night and day, which controls melatonin production, and boosts it when needed. Melatonin also seems to be related to stress, so the more relaxed you are, the better you will sleep.
The Bottom Line
Although supplements are not bad for you, naturally boosting melatonin will be better for your sleep patterns and better for your health. If you suffer from sleeping disorders, then supplements are definitely worth a try.
But speak to your doctor first. The risks are minimal and do not affect everyone, but boosting your body’s natural hormone production will always be a better and safer option.